Mooney is James, a man-child with a head of curly hair and 173 episodes of his favourite show, “The Adventures of Brigsby Bear” on VHS. Sort of like Paddington in outer space, the adventure series stars a man in a bear mascot suit saving the universe for the evil SunSnatcher and doling out advice like, “Prophecy is meaningless, only trust your familial units.”
“Brigsby” super fan James lives with his parents Ted and April Mitchum (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) in an underground bunker, shut off from the rest of the world save for a weekly delivery of a new “Brigsby” tape and a dodgy internet connection. His parents have kept him separated from the world, a world, he was told, where the air was toxic. He’s never been off the property or outside without a gas mask.
One night the FBI raids the bunker arresting Ted and April for abducting James when he was a baby before returning James to his real parents Louise and Greg (Michaela Watkins and Matt Walsh) and sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins). Leaving Ted, April and Brigsby behind is a tough adjustment for the naïve man. “Everybody says they’re trying to help me,” he says, “but nobody can get me the new episode of Brigsby Bear.”
Turns out Ted had been making Brigsby episodes like, “Making Friends with the Wizzels,” for an audience of one, James. Filled with good life lessons the shows taught James about loyalty, fairness and perseverance. With no new episodes to study and learn from James, and his new acquaintances Aubrey, Meredith (Alexa Demie, Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear)—comes up with a plan to share his favourite character with the world. “Brigsby never gives up and I won’t either,” he says.
James is a Chance the Gardener type character. Like the famous “Being There” he is sweetly unsophisticated with knowledge derived mostly from television. Mooney could have played James as an alien, a fish out of water for whom everything is new—first party, first time with a girl, first bad drug trip—but, Like Peter Sellers’ Chance, he keeps it real, imbuing the odd character with real humanity. “It’s a different reality than I thought,” he says of world outside the bunker and he has trouble fitting into it but he never falls into caricature.
I kept waiting for “Brigsby Bear” to develop an edge or to get ugly or to collapse under the weight of its quirkiness, but it doesn’t. It’s a sweetheart of a film about loyalty, the power of art as a coping device and a source of inspiration, the line between passion and obsession, but most importantly, it’s about accepting people for who they are.